Bishop: Bankruptcy Decision in Sept
Bishop Gerald Kicanas Says the Timing Is Tied to a Civil Trial of a Priest That Starts Sept. 15

By Sheryl Kornman and Val Canez
Tucson Citizen [Tucson AZ]
Downloaded July 1, 2004

Bishop Gerald Kicanas, speaking to the Tucson Citizen's editorial board yesterday, said bankruptcy would impose order on the "chaotic" situation the diocese finds itself in.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas yesterday said he expects to decide by mid-September whether the Diocese of Tucson will seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The decision's timing is tied to the Sept. 15 start of a civil trial seeking damages in the case of priest Juan Guillen, who pleaded guilty to attempted child molestation in April 2003.

"That deadline is looming. I don't know that we will want to go into that trial without knowing the overall picture," he said.

Kicanas said bankruptcy would impose order on the "chaotic" situation the diocese finds itself in:

Allegations of sexual abuse by priests continue to come in to the diocese.

Some settlements in existing cases are being negotiated privately.

A balloon payment of $3 million, part of a 2002 settlement of claims of abuse, is due in 2007.

The total amount of that settlement remains confidential but is in the millions, he told the editorial board of the Tucson Citizen. Kicanas said the diocese is willing to disclose the amount but cannot under terms of the settlement.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy provides for restructuring debts, sometimes with reduced payments, a move that allows organizations to keep operating.

Bankruptcy is being considered mainly because the diocese does not have the funds to cover anticipated claims involving allegations of sexual abuse by priests who have worked in the diocese, Kicanas said.

The Boston diocese sold property to help pay claims of sexual abuse, Kicanas acknowledged, but he said selling property here does not seem to be a viable option.

Each parish is solely owned, he explained. And although the diocese owns more than 100 properties in Arizona, selling the parcels would not solve its financial problems, Kicanas said.

Many properties are vacant land in rural areas and do not have enough value. Other parcels, diocese spokesman Fred Allen said, have been donated to the church with restrictions on their use, and cannot be sold to settle lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests.

If the Tucson diocese seeks Chapter 11 protection, it would be the first Catholic diocese in the nation to do so.

Since bankruptcies are administered through the courts, Kicanas said, he is weighing the issue of separation of church and state under those circumstances as he continues to discuss the matter.

He emphasized his commitment to continuing the mission of the church to provide spiritual guidance and teaching.

Kicanas, who has been outspoken on the plight of illegal immigrants, said the issue will get more attention in coming months.

He said he expects to meet in the early fall with Asa Hutchison, the federal under secretary for border and transportation security, to talk about the issue.

Kicanas said the pope, with whom he met last month, has called for "more binational efforts of all the countries in the Americas" on the immigration issue.

He also is in contact with the bishop of Hermosillo, Son.

"Our concerns are the same," the bishop said. "What happens on one side of the border does affect what happens on the other side of the border."

The aim is that "we not see this as only our issue or their issue."